Nicole Cooke has announced her retirement. She began her racing career with Cardiff Ajax at St. Nicholas in the early 90’s and is, of course, a life member of the club.
Please read an article written by Roger Pratt a few years ago.
Nicole Cooke – what can you say except superlatives – multi-world junior champion on and off-road, nine times British Road Champion, World Cup winner in 2003 and 2006, winner of the Tours of France, Germany and Italy, Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2002 and to top it all, in 2008, World Road Champion in Italy and Olympic Gold Medallist – the first gold medallist for Team GB in the Beijing Olympics.
There can be very few athletes in any sport who can boast a record like this by the age of twenty-five but this is what she has achieved.
Nicole is very much a product of Wales, being born in Wick, between Bridgend and Llantwit Major. Her parents still live there although Nicole now has her home in Lugano, Switzerland, as most women’s cycle racing is in continental Europe. Nicole’s parents were and are club cyclists but encouraged her interest in racing from an early age. Her brother, Craig, is also a talented cyclist who raced with much success at one time but now pursues a career in civil aviation. So much of Nicole’s success, apart from her own physical and mental strengths, can be put down to her family support.
Nicole’s first taste of racing came in the early 1990’s with Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club. (The “Ajax” is a long-established Cardiff club with another world champion in its ranks – Sally Hodge – a world track champion in the 1980s.) In their cycling trips around the Vale of Glamorgan, the Cookes had noticed during the summer that ten mile cycle races were being run on the Cardiff to Cowbridge road. This type of event is a “time trial” where competitors ride alone to record a time and are popular as training and beginners’ events.
Out on their tandem one evening, Nicole’s dad, Tony, stopped at the Ajax event to make enquiries and they were welcomed to ride that evening. The time-keeper looked at the duo’s tandem which looked like a relic from the industrial revolution against the sleek carbon and aluminium of other riders’ machines, and expected nothing special from Dad on the front and the slim, youthful figure on the back. At the finish everyone was startled to find that Tony and Nicole had returned a time of 26.30, among the fastest of the evening on a hard, hilly course. Clearly, we thought, Tony must be much fitter than he looks and we didn’t realise then how much of a power pack Nicole must have been pedalling behind him even at the age of ten.
The family joined the Ajax – Nicole is now a life member – and she began her rise to stardom. From the start she easily beat other girls in her categories but soon was beating the boys on the road, mountain-biking and cyclo-cross. British and world championships were achieved as a junior even becoming British senior road champion when still a junior in 2000. Most people feel that Nicole should have gone to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney but she was deemed too young by cycling’s governing body.
At nineteen, she was Commonwealth Games road champion in 2002, winning gold for Wales despite crashing in the last mile. By this time she was pre-eminently No.1 in women’s cycling, winning all around the world. Given a harder and hillier course and team support she could have won gold in the Olympics in Greece in 2004.
This is a very brief outline of Nicole’s career and principally about her early days. She is currently beginning her 2009 season with a series of very hard “classics” in Europe but her main aim this year is to retain her world championship in September. Nicole must be Wales’ most successful international athlete in recent years but this has only been achieved by hours of incredibly hard work on the road in all weathers and by her own steely mental determination.
Despite this, Nicole is, off the bike, a pleasant, intelligent young woman who seems completely unspoiled by her success. On the bike and in a race the determined, even ferocious personality takes over which drives her to so many victories.
Nicole keeps her contacts with Cardiff Ajax, and her family appreciate the help given, not just by Ajax members, but everyone in South Wales cycling who helped in her early years. Last December, Nicole, her boy-friend and her parents attended the Cardiff Ajax Christmas dinner, a very informal, sometimes raucous, event with members from a few months old to their 70s. Everyone joins in with a lunch, bingo, raffles, presents from Father Christmas, etc., The World Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist blended into the crowd, enjoyed her day and didn’t forget her roots in club cycling. That evening she was a leading guest at the BBC Welsh Sports Personality programme where she was equally at home among the elite of Welsh sportsmen and women.
You can find more news about Nicole at “NicoleCooke.com” and Cardiff Ajax’s activities at www.cardiffajaxcycling.co.uk The Ajax organises and is involved in regular weekly rides, events, races, etc., and welcomes new members of all abilities – see the website for more information.